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Confession time: I am not a big fan of the lascivious pimp styling of Andre Williams. On some level his act has felt somewhat contrived, a caricature of a stereotype of a novelty one-trick pony. So it was with a little trepidation that I entered into his new album, Hoods and Shades. Why take the risk? Because this record was touted as being different, a stripped-down affair that set aside the character-play and focused on the music. And guess what? This record is Andre Williams, stripped down, not exactly acoustic, but the aforementioned qualities are restrained. The result? A record that’s bluesy without necessarily being—or going—blue. The stripped-down arrangements are provided by an all-star ensemble, including Don Was and Dennis Coffey, and these masterful musicians help to bring out what’s always been Willams’ strong point: storytelling. He’s a masterful teller of tales, and the tales he tells are powerful thought-provoking, and enjoyable; “Swamp Dogg’s Hot Spot” is a superb telling of a bad man’s history, while the title song is a rambling lament of an elder statesman’s state of the union. Elsewhere, the acoustic setting helps to accentuate the down-on-your-luck feelings found in “A Good Day to Be Bad” and “I’ve Got Money On My Mind.” While Hoods and Shades may not cause me to seek out Williams’ back catalog, it is a pleasurable listen, and one that, in its no-nonsense way, highlights the man’s true gifts. May he explore this side more.